Shooting in Lithuania

Fall 2001 – Journal entry by Charles Darby, Line Producer

Lithuania UniversityLondon EtchingA few calls to TV movie producers, who are notorious for taking chances on exotic locations if they can save a buck, uncovered Lithuania as a possibility. Lithuania had been independent of the Soviets for ten years but was off the beaten path enough that a tourist industry had not really developed. Funds were still tight, so that massive rebuilding and modernizing had not taken place. (The streets of the capital are still swept by hand using twig brooms). A film studio, left over from the Soviets, was located in the capital city, Vilnius, so there was an indigenous production crew that we could work with. After getting some picture books of various Vilnius streets and buildings, we decided to investigate further. We were amazed when we compared these modern photos of historic Vilnius to period engravings we had of 18th century London and Paris.

Because none of us spoke Russian or Lithuanian, we decided to communicate in “pictures.” We had storyboards drawn of the scenes we hoped to film there and sent them to Lithuania. The local production staff reviewed the storyboards and then went out to find appropriate locations that matched our drawings. They took snapshots and then e-mailed them to us. After reviewing the photos and getting an estimated cost for shooting in Lithuania for two weeks, we decided to go there. (It should be noted that it is unusual to go to a location, dragging six US and one British crew member almost half way around the planet, without going in advance and meeting the local staff and visiting the proposed locations). Unfortunately, we didn’t have the funds to send an advance party — fortunately, it all worked out.

We shot for two weeks, and were able to film an enormous number of scenes in this limited time. For the most part, the crews were very experienced – all were hard working. The Soviet occupation had in some sense put Lithuania into a “deep freeze.” All we had to do to create a historic cobblestone street was to put up some historic signage, and fill the street with other period elements; other effects of the occupation, however, created some real problems.

When it came time to do interior scenes, such as a fancy dinner party – we couldn’t locate upscale historic tableware or other historic household furnishings. We discovered that during the Soviet occupation, the country had been looted of these sorts of things. Normally, when doing such scenes, the art department would rent the necessary items from antique stores, but very few antique stores exist in Lithuania, due to the dearth of antiques. We filmed in some old mansions and estates, the exteriors being still gorgeous and grand, but the interiors were dreary. The Russians had stripped out anything that could be unbolted and carted away; and dull brown seemed to be the only paint color authorized. After a week of searching for the scene requiring a fancy dinner setting, we were able to locate a set of fine china. It belonged to our assistant costume designer – her family had kept it buried in their yard for decades, to prevent it from being confiscated.

All the film footage was sent back to the US for processing, so we were not able to review any of the footage until we returned – very nerve wracking. It was great to be home after three weeks, but equally wonderful to sit back and relive our journey to Lithuania as we watched the “dailies.”